Published on November 15th, 2014 | by Greg0
Opalum Steam 210 And Control Hub II: Thin And Gorgeous
The home audio market is fairly divided. On one side lay most consumer gear, which rarely exceeds a few hundred dollars, and tends to be fairly well-marketed with brands and styles that you might recognize competing against newer entrants offering fairly similar products. But there is an entirely other universe, a spectrum that starts basically where the other gear ends, with prices that can range into the tens of thousands of dollars and names most folks don’t know. Custom installers build mansions, where home theater systems may offer 7.2 sound and 3D projection, and even the kitchen needs a decent sound system. Even if you’re not in that market, and don’t need a tube amplifier or a high-end DAC, it can still be nice to see what’s out there. And today’s Scandinavian gear straddles the line a bit, offering a fairly compelling value proposition even if you don’t have six bedrooms and an art collection.
Setting up the Opalum Stream.210 pair of wall-mountable ultra-thin speakers made us feel like we were made of a million bucks. Don’t be fooled by the compact size and steep price tag- we were a bit unsure until the mouse became a roaring lion- the very first movie we put on started with the classic MGM intro and had our eyes wide open. The last time we were so impressed by a high-end piece of gear that combined small-scale classy design with surprisingly strong sound was with the Bowers and Wilkins Zeppelin (and the sequels). With dimensions around 10 x 9 x 5, they’ll fit just about anywhere, and blend in nicely, and weigh only about four pounds each.
It’s not that there are a bunch of drivers in a unit- only a single 5-inch woofer + and a 1-inch tweeter. And each speaker in the pair offers a reasonable but not excessive amount of power for a bookshelf-like system, bi-amped and able to put out 20W on the high end and 40W on the low. Active bi-amping isn’t totally common outside of pro gear, but allows for efficient division of frequencies, and especially in the most demanding situations can offer a little bit extra room in your sound. This leads to a very impressive number- 42Hz- which is among the lowest frequency response ratings we’ve seen (up to 20kHz, which is standard). Despite the lack of a separate subwoofer, we could feel the bass, especially in high-definition music where there’s plenty of texture and depth. To be clear, on giant explosions, you’ll still miss that big sub, but for anything else, the Stream.210 is silky, sinuous, and precise. Thanks to a large sweet spot, we didn’t even worry too much about spacing or placement in a room, something we’ve had to adjust on many systems.
You don’t have to mount them either- feet can be added, allowing them to stand upright on any surface. Either way, once placed, you’ll want to connect them to your Control Hub II, which serves as the nerve center for your audio system and a small stereo preamp. Offering an array of connectivity options, including two optical and one coaxial digital audio inputs, plus an analog stereo input, and there’s a subwoofer output as well. You’ll then connect the speakers to your new box, using pretty normal 18-gauge speaker wire, which you can easily hide. The best part of it all? No need for other wires, thanks to their proprietary Actiline system that allows the Control Hub to serve as both the power supply and run your audio signal along the same wiring. It’s hard to overstate how cool this is, and it’s far more responsive and higher-quality than most current wireless solutions. You can even daisy chain one speaker from the other, with no extra power cords or ugly cabling. The Hub even has a built-in Bluetooth receiver, with full lossless apt-X support, and we had no major drop-outs or trouble connecting from our smartphones and tablets.
Even the remote control is worthy of special attention- a four-inch round disk, with no raised buttons. It’s hard to use in the dark because of this, but one really fun feature is that it uses RF instead of IR- basically, you don’t need to worry about pointing it in the right direction or having line-of-sight to the receiver. You can hide it away in a cabinet and still use the remote control easily.
Opalum offers some other high-end gear, if these guys aren’t enough. Their Flow.1010 system has won rave reviews, and they offer mid-range 310 and premium 4810 designs as well. But we were more than impressed with the Flow.210, and it’s unique feature set- the best-sound system we’ve seen in this small and light of a form factor. Available in a dark grey or a matte white, expect to spend around $800 for the Opalum Stream.210 speakers and the Control Hub II, largely through dealers.